Honey Prices: Making sense of colony collapse disorder

When I buy honey for mead, I do it in 5 gallon (60 lb) buckets. With last year’s dip in US honey production and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) wiping out honeybee colonies, I’m keeping a wary eye on prices. Predicting 2007 production and prices is as dicey as guessing the cause of CCD, so I’ll start with what we know about 2006.

The USDA reports that the number of colonies fell by 1% to 2.39 million, in 2006, and the yield per colony fell by 11% to 64.7 lb of honey. Total production fell by 11% to 155 million lb, and inventories held by producers fell by 3% to 60.5 million lb. We also know that US beekeepers have lost 25% of their colonies, recently, to CCD.

We could start with that 25% loss and forecast a 25% drop in production, on top of last year’s 11% drop, to 116 million lb. I think two things will push that number higher. First of all, beekeepers are trying to rebuild their colonies so even if they can’t fully recoup their losses, the number of producing colonies should be higher than 1.79 million. Last year’s production suffered from unfavorable weather, so if this is a more normal year then yield per colony should be higher. If we just use 2005’s figure of 72.4 lb of honey per colony, and use the 1.79 million colonies then we get almost 130 million lb. That’s more than a 15% drop, but it assumes that beekeepers are unable to rebuild their colonies at all. With researchers hard at work on CCD, I think that’s far too pessimistic. If beekeepers can replace half their losses (I’m just pulling that number out of thin air), then we’d have 2.09 million colonies. Using 2005 yields would give us 151 million lb of honey – just a 2.6% drop from 2006. There are too many variables to rely on the 151 million lb number (I won’t even call it a forecast), but I think it shows that a supply squeeze is not in the cards.

Beekeepers produce honey all over the world and I haven’t forgotten about them, I just know more about the US industry. CCD has struck Europe and South America, as well as 27 US states, but my sense is that the US has been hit harder than the rest of the world. If that’s so, then there will be even less pressure on prices this year.

I still might buy my honey early this year. After all, it’s hard to imagine prices falling much in this environment.

Update 5/16/07
Here’s my source for US honey industry information:

NASS Honey Report 2/28/07

The National Agricultural Statistics Service, part of the USDA, puts out this summery every year.

Update 8/8/07: Honey prices drift upward
Over the following three months, honey prices have risen modestly, so while I don’t have any information on this year’s production I remain confident in my analysis.

Update 3/9/08: US honeybee population rises despite Colony Collapse Disorder
The latest honey report shows producing honeybee colonies rose 2% in 2007, and honey production fell by 4% – not far at all from my -2.6% “unprediction!” Read more here.

Update 10/6/2008: Honey prices surge

I’ve heard many explainations, from poor crops in Brazil to a falling dollar, but whatever the cause, honey prices surged in the fall of 2008.

Update 1/12/2009: Honey prices keep rising

The advance in honey prices, that I first noticed in the fall of 2008, continues into early 2009.

Update 3/9/2009: Honeybees hang in there for another year

The 2008 Honey Report indicated that managed colonies in the US fell by only 6%. Honey production and per colony yield rose. It’s looking more and more like Colony Collapse Disorder is not a catastrophe.

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1 thought on “Honey Prices: Making sense of colony collapse disorder

  1. Dick Adams

    I am very price sensitive and keep track of honey prices and shipping costs. Somewhere between every 12 to 16 months I find someone to drive me the 85 miles from Ellicott City, MD to Dutch Gold in Lancaster, PA to by honey. In late 2007, I purchased 360 lbs (six 5-gal pails). The price has not changed since it went down in 2004 or was it 2005.

    My problems with honey prices are with Beekeepers who want retail prices which are possibly three times the price honey packers will pay them and with some vendors who buy the same honey I buy (Clover @ $78/pail) and resell it at $150. The former do not want to negotiate and the latter claim they are in a retail business even though they have no actual retail store.

    We can thank Osama bin Laden for the freight costs and I have no idea how to counteract it other than doing a step-n-fetch.

    HoneyLocator.com is a fairly thorough source of honey suppliers. I use it when I’d like a honey I can not get from Dutch Gold and I’m willing to pay the freight costs. Except for Orange Blossom and Raspberry Blossom, I have not paid more than $75 a pail ($15/gal) and I am sure some Meadmakers pay less.

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